Rab Alpha Direct Jacket Review

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-11-40-52-amWinters in Upper Michigan are unpredictable. One year, you get so much snow you can’t get out your front door, the next year you can mow your lawn on Christmas. One day you’re climbing ice in a t-shirt and the next you’re shivering on belay wearing every layer you own. The key to comfort in these ever changing conditions is apparel that adapts to the weather and the Alpha Direct Jacket from Rab might be one of the most adaptable pieces I’ve seen.

The Alpha Direct is designed to be a cold weather midlayer or a sort-of-cold weather outer layer, making it a piece you will wear day after day, no matter what the conditions bring. I’ve worn it climbing at 20 degrees and under a shell shoveling snow at -5 degrees.

At the heart of the Alpha Directs adaptability is it’s insulation. The Polartec Alpha is one of the most breathable insulations I’ve tested. This allows the jacket to go from standing to moving without having to shed layers. Warmth is subjective but I found the sweet spot for being active in this jacket to be around 10-20 degrees. At those temps I could comfortably wear it to approach an ice climb, get set up, climb, and belay my partner. No swapping layers. The soft fleece interior is super comfortable. Seriously. It feels great next to the skin making it ideal to wear over a t-shirt. The fleece does grab at other layers, but the thumb holes in the stretch cuffs keeps everything in place.The outer fabric is light and highly water resistant Pertex Microlight. The fabric is durable without being stiff and easily sheds heavy snow and even water dripping off of a wet climb. The insulation and shell materials combine to create a light, compressible and especially versatile jacket.

The Alpha Direct is designed for climbers and has tons of features a climber will appreciate. An under-helmet hood is something that I wish more jackets had. It makes it easy to wear two hoods at the same time. When you don’t don’t want the hood it rolls out of the way and stashes with a velcro tab reducing bulk. The Alpha Direct also features a two way zipper and glove friendly zipper pulls, key features when you’re climbing ice.

jacket_3One of the most important aspects of a jackets function is fit. The Alpha Direct has an “Alpine Fit”, which means it’s cut pretty slim. The fit works to reduce bulk as well as making it warmer, but may leave some wearers who are used to roomier jackets feeling a little claustrophobic. I’m 6’2, 170 pounds and usually wear a medium jacket. I found the medium Alpha Direct to fit pretty snuggly across the chest with good length in the body and sleeves. If you prefer a slightly looser fit you may want consider sizing up.

Being made for climbers doesn’t mean that the Alpha Direct isn’t an every day jacket. It transitions easily from home, to climb, to bar and back again. The technical features are wrapped in a stylish package that I was happy to wear out on the town. One unintended feature of the Pertex Microlight shell fabric is its ability to shed dog hair. As the owner two trail dogs it was a nice surprise to get a black jacket that didn’t look like something PETA would disapprove of.

Whether you’re climbing, skiing or digging out the car after the most recent U.P. blizzard, the Rab Alpha Direct will meet your changing needs, and it will do it with style. If you want to check out this sweet jacket, or any of the other winter apparel from Rab, make sure you stop by Ice Fest Headquarters.


Patagonia Ascensionist Pack


With our store beginning to transition into spring inventory, it is always nice to see new products flowing on to the sales floor that we really don’t have to wait for nice warm weather to use.  Fresh out of the box we just unpacked the Patagonia Ascensionist Pack that would make the perfect light weight ice climbing or fast packing pack.  Weighing in at a scant 1.4 lbs this ultra light pack is sure to make the spring skiing out to Grand Island more enjoyable!


Patagonia Ascensionist Pack

Designed for one-to-two day speedball ascents in places like Chamonix and Patagonia, this streamlined, yet highly versatile climbing backpack has everything you need, but absolutely nothing more. It features an integrated, asymmetrical spindrift collar that opens wide and closes in a single motion for fast packing. A secondary collar protects your gear from ugly weather, allows serious overstuffing and holds gear securely when the pack is hanging at belays. The removable frame sheet, made from a lightweight aluminum rod and covered with mesh, provides support for weighted loads and moves with you as you bend and flex. Ergonomic shoulder straps (with load lifters) match your torso’s contours for 24-hour comfort, and the hip belt has removable pads for simplicity. Four rows of exterior daisy chains provide lashing options for a rope, helmet and pad; ice tools attach via an integrated buckle and tool pocket. Other details include compression straps to carry skis and cinch down loads, an asymmetric profile for elbow clearance and a zippered pocket on the lid for quick access to small essentials. Made from lightweight yet durable 6.25-oz 210-denier nylon double-ripstop and 6.05-oz 400-denier nylon ripstop, with a 1.8-oz 40-denier nylon double-ripstop lining. All fabrics have a polyurethane coating.

See what Michigan Ice Fest friend Steve House has to say about this pack.


Black Diamond Spot Headlamp Ice Fest Special!

Powerful and fully featured, the 130-lumen Spot offers convenient PowerTap Technology, which allows for quick, on-the-fly brightness adjustment with just a finger tap to the side of its touch-sensitive housing. 130 lumens is perfect for those late night excursions finishing up on Dairyland and heading back home along the Lakeshore Trail!  Teaming up with Gold level Sponsor Black Diamond, the Michigan Ice Fest staff are proud to announce that we will be selling a limited amount of these amazing headlamps for only $29.95!

Asolo Eiger GV Wins Best In Gear Award!


Rock and Ice magazine has announced the winners of the 2014 B.I.G. (best in gear) awards, and the Asolo Eiger, a boot that rolled out in 2013, has won for the boot category.  Six B.I.G. awards are given out each year for new products that are innovative, high quality, are good values and have withstood the rigors of field testing.  The Eiger won for being the lightest weight boot in its class—it is an insulated single boot that climbs technical ice and mixed terrain.
Stop by Sydney’s at the Michigan Ice Fest and demo a pair!


Grivel Speedy Ice Screw!

The Helix Speedy Ice Screw by Grivel – Speedy is a quickdraw specifically for ice screws designed to simplify manoeuvres of placement and removal safely without losing the screw. It consists of a shackel rotating freely on the tube, a sling in highly resistant Dyneema and a carabiner. There’s a weight reduction of 15% compared to the traditional screw plus quickdraw and double carabiner.

Screwing: With Speedy the climber can set up a self belay by attaching the rope after only a few turns of the screw and then finish screwing in safely. As the carabiner hangs perpendicular to the ice it’s easy to thread the rope with the carabiner facing in the right direction. The generously sized carabiner makes it easy to use with winter gloves. The point of force is right up against the ice and follows the screw’s length. The ridge on the tube keeps Speedy in the right position avoiding whiplash in case of an abrupt jerk and stops the quickdraw slipping down the tube during placement.

Removing: Speedy lets the climber remove the screw without unthreading the rope so it’s impossible to lose the screw, as once out of the ice it will be attached to the harness.  See and purchase the Speedy all weekend long at Ice Fest Headquarters!

Black Diamond Stinger Crampon

It’s always exciting to check out the gear being offered at the Michigan Ice Fest demo and again this year we are super pyched to have the Black Diamond Stinger Crampon available for participants to try out!

Designed to tackle serious ice and mixed lines on winter crags and alpine faces the world over, the Black Diamond Stinger is the lightweight stainless steel crampon offered by Black Diamond, with a replaceable monopoint. An asymmetrical design fits the contours of modern mountain boots, and thin, low-profile heel and toe wires offer a precise fit for less weight.


  • Asymmetrical stainless steel design is lightweight, won’t rust and fits the contours of modern boots
  • Mono frontpoint is replaceable at low cost and can be changed quickly and easily in the field
  • Hooded frontpoint and aggressive secondary points are optimized for precise, secure placements
  • Low-profile micro-adjust heel level offers precision fit
  • Thin, low-profile toe bail and thinner, shorter heel wire for improved fit with modern boots
  • Includes front and rear dual-density ABS

From the Black Diamond Web Site, the following interview  took place with Climbing Hardgoods Category Director Bill Belcourt to talk about the BD  Stinger crampon, a highly technical monopoint crampon designed for high-end mixed and ice climbing.

 What was the design goal in creating the Stinger?

We wanted a crampon that climbed ice like a sticky rubber rock shoe climbs rock. This meant a monopoint crampon that was as stable as a dual, and had traction no matter where you stepped on it.

What kinds of climbing is the Stinger designed for?  Why the monopoint?

Hard ice climbing and mixed climbing of all kinds. The Stinger has been developed and tested by our global climbing team on serious new routes all over the world, including a first ascent on Hispar Sar in Pakistan. Mono points allow you to follow your tool placements with your front points (tracking). Monos are also lighter and better for climbing rock because they fit in cracks and on small holds.

What are the main features that set the Stinger apart from other monopoint crampons on the market?

Using stainless steel is the biggest thing; it wears better, sheds snow better, and doesn’t rust when compared with CrMo steels typically used in crampons. The stainless steel we use is also 3 times more expensive, but it is worth it. The Stinger has a front point that easy to replace and inexpensive, and this is a big advantage considering how quickly the front point wears compared with the rest of the crampon. We also positioned the secondary points closer to the front points providing much more stability, and we added a massive amount of point serrations giving traction in all sorts of situations where a normally configured crampon would leave you slipping.

What design features have been incorporated to accommodate modern mountain boots?

A new, narrower toe and heel bail have been designed with modern boots specifically in mind. We will still stock our older wide bails for those with older boots that still have plenty of life left in them.

Were there any unique challenges encountered by the design team when building the Stinger?

The biggest thing is the spectrum of boot models and boot sizes that crampons need to fit today are as broad as ever and it just gets bigger every year. It is a real challenge. The second is creating a light and strong crampon with a full ABS system that does not compromise on climbing performance. It is too easy these days to sacrifice real performance to save a little weight and we don’t want to fall into that trap; performance has to be king.

Like what you see?  Give the Stinger a ride at Ice Fest this year and don’t forget-  for the first time ever during the  2014 Michigan Ice Fest participants can score a HUGE deal!  We are excited to announce that all clothing will be discounted 30% off, all hardgoods will be 20% off!

Silver Sponsor Grivel Heads Up An Awesome Field For Our Demos!

The organizers of the Michigan Ice Fest are super stoked to have Grivel back for the Michigan Ice Fest this year!   Heading up our demo, one of the worlds oldest manufacturers of ice climbing gear, will have demo crampons and tools available to check out and do a few Michigan Ice routes with.


More importantly, after demoing the gear we will have Grivel product to sell!  Make sure you stop in at Sydney’s to check out the latest and greatest from this company that has produced alpine equipment since 1818.

Quantum Tech Ice Axe

If ever there was a sexy ice climbing tool this is the one!  The ultimate axe for technical climbers with aerospace grade composite. Hot forged head in chromolly steel: no compromise over quality because forging internal microstructure can be oriented to improve strength, and internal defects or porosity are minimized. Available with shovel or hammer.

Carbon Composite shaft: no compromise over quality because composite materials means that the parts of the final product subject to major pressure that require more strength and rigidity can be designed specifically to enhance these characteristics. This vital aspect is made possible by the type of reinforcement and the orientation of the fibres, and the light alloy matrix transfers load to the external reinforcement in Carbon fiber.

Helix SPD Ice Screw

The Grivel Helix SPD Ice Screw uses an integrated sling which lets it be place and removed while still clipped to a rope. This makes protection your pitch easier and faster, reduces the chances of dropping gear, and saves you the weight of a carabiner on every single piece. Like the standard Helix ice screw, the Grivel SPD includes a large knob that makes placements easier, even in the hardest bulletproof ice.

Super big thanks to Liberty Mountain Works and Grivel for bring their products out and helping to make our Ice Fest even better!